Saturday, February 11, 2012

Platypus in Lankhmar: The Platypus Reads Part CXXXIX

Note: This post contains a review of Fritz Leiber's "Swords in the Mist."  Those who wish to remain spoiler free should not read on.

"Swords in the Mist" is the third volume of the adventures of Fafhrd and Grey Mouser, the dynamic duo created by American sci-fi and fantasy author Fritz Leiber.  While the volume does contain several short stories, the main portion of the book is a novela that details the exploits of Fafhrd and Mouser in the Seleucid Empire.  In a sci-fi twist, Leiber brings the two heroes from the world of Newhon (No When) to earth's past and pits them against a Persian adept who has fallen under the power of the evil Zoroastrian demon Ahriman (aka. Druj or :"The Lie").  I love Ancient Greece and I love Achaemenid Persia so, needless to say, my interest was piqued.

Leiber pays about as much attention to historical detail as one would expect from an American 20th century fantasy writer.  There's just enough detail to make the world seem plausible on a basic level with a few fact/name drops to please the learned.  Other than that, not much separates Lebier's portrayl of the Seleucid Empire from the setting of any of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser story.  Mainly, it seems like Lankhmar was boring Fritz Leiber and he wanted to try a little historical fiction but with characters and a plot he knew would sell.  It's a similar impulse to the one that created Robert E. Howard's Conan, so I can't complain.  That said, let's move on to what primarily interested me about "Swords in the Mist."

In keeping with my comments on volumes I and II of the Lankhmar series, what interested me about "Swords in the Mist" is the relationship between to the two men and their ladies fair.  To recap, in "Swords and Deviltry" we saw Fafhrd and Mouser potentially forming a foursome with Lady Ivrian and the fair Vlana.  This balanced powerhouse is cut short by the murder of the two women.  While we mourn their passing, it seems as if the main point is to kill off the girls so that the boys can keep having adventures.  Adventures aren't as adventurous (or as possible) with a wife and three kids.  There's nothing uncommon about this. James Bond and Indiana Jones always have a love-interest, but tying them down to a stable relationship would make them unfit for further exploits.  (Interestingly enough, Universal Studios has attempted to buck this trend with their "Mummy" series.  Make of that what you will.)  The second volume, "Swords Against Death," allows our heroes to return to hetero-normative adventures by mystically freeing them of their attachments to their dead darlings, Vlana and Ivrian.  Volume III now finds our heroes committed and adept fornicators, moving incontinently from woman to woman (or more accurately whore to whore) with apathetic dissoluteness.  It's a trope we've come to expect from twentieth-century heroes, but Leiber now complicates things.  In an attempt to lure them to his secret lair, the sorcerous adept Anra Devadoris curses Fafhrd and Mouser so that any woman they kiss turns into an animal.  Horrified by a life without sex, except for the amulet-toting cross-eyed courtesan Chloe, the heroes are lured into Devadoris' trap and very nearly killed.  Indeed, Fafhrd's spiritual guide, Ninguable, gives them both up for dead.  Our heroes here have reached  bottom.  They no loner live for anything beyond their own lowest-common-denominator pleasures.  This lifestyle can't ultimately satisfy, and Fafhrd and Mouser are forced to return to their own world of Lankhmar having failed to find fulfilment on Earth.  It is also interesting to note that then next volume, "Swords Against Wizardry," begins with our heroes alone again.

So where is all this going?  Somewhere traditional I believe.  In the end, I have a feeling that the archo-adventurers, Fafhrd and Grey Mouser will only find peace when they are willing to really love, settle down, and assume responsibility.  Such a role requires a great deal of continence, however, and it will interesting to see where in Newhon, or any possible world, the dynamic duo will find it. 

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